Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Will state conventions be helped by undermining the Cooperative Program?

The Consolation Baptist Association here in Georgia has passed a resolution suggesting that churches cut their Cooperative Program giving by 25-35 percent and designate this to "state missions" or, as explained to me, to their state convention.

I learned of the resolution from a comment left on SBC Voices, asked for and received a copy of it, and have had a couple of cordial conversations with Joe McGee, Associational Missionary for the association. A previous blog on the matter may be found here.

I judge this to be a well-intentioned effort by some very dedicated Christian colleagues to help the Georgia Baptist Convention in a time of great budgetary stress; however, any move to do so by encouraging churches to make steep cuts to their Cooperative Program giving is harmful to both the state convention and SBC entities. 

The idea that state conventions should be helped by encouraging churches to decrease their giving to the International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board, the six SBC seminaries, and other SBC entities is far off the mark.

Joe told me that I really needed to read an explanatory article, linked here, that explained the resolution. I read it and found it to be a mixture of misapplied data and opinion. Couple of points...

The title: "THE GEORGIA BAPTIST CONVENTION AND THE COOPERATIVE PROGRAM: GUILTY BY ASSOCIATION" implies that the GBC is suffering because of negative opinions of churches to SBC entities and actions beyond our state. 

I don't think this is the case. A number of state conventions have actually moved to increase the percentage of CP receipts that they send to SBC agencies and institutions, hardly an action they would take if they perceive that their constituent churches disapprove. 

Great Commission Giving: Data is cited that say "cooperative program giving was down by 5.86 percent" while contributions to "Southern Baptists institutions" were "up to [sic] 5-6% over last year's contributions during the same span." 

This is both inaccurate and a mixed up use of data. The source cited for the statement above compared GBC contributions for an entire year (2011) and an Executive Committee report for four months (Oct 2011-Jan 2012), manifestly not the "same span." Monthly receipts by the SBC Executive Committee are variable. You cannot draw a valid conclusion from the comparison used.

But, flawed data aside, might not Great Commission Giving be the culprit behind state convention budgetary woes? 

No. The data do not show this.

The Executive Committee reports direct gifts from churches that bypass their state convention. These gifts are actually down this year from the same period last year. They also report that designated gifts to the mission boards are down from last year. I don't know about direct gifts to the seminaries. If churches are diverting funds from state conventions at a substantially higher rate such doesn't show up in the data reported.

Direct giving by churches to SBC entities is a very small fraction of CP giving. The numbers aren't sufficient to blame state convention woes on churches pouring funds straight into IMB, NAMB, or the seminaries.

The case made for encouraging churches to substantially cut their CP giving in order to help state conventions not only uses flawed data but is  unreasonable. Do the people in the churches of this association really believe that cutting funds to our overseas missionaries so that we can have more state convention employees here in heavily churches Georgia is right and proper? Surely not.

Another issue raised in the article is Calvinism. There are already churches in the GBC that have defunded Southern and Southeastern seminaries over the issue. Fair enough. Let individual churches that their CP giving and defund from it whatever they feel is necessary for their collective conscience. If a church concludes that Southern and Southeastern cannot in good conscience be supported then let them cut 3.5% of their CP giving and apply it elsewhere. That is the approximate amount that the two schools receive of a CP dollar. 

Joe McGee conveys a frustration and dissatisfaction that I hear often on the blogs - the SBC is a megachurch run, top-down organization that ignores the vast majority of churches and pastors. He is concerned that Al Mohler and Danny Akin call the shots in the SBC on major issues. There is some truth in both of these though not to the extent that I would take the action he is taking.

But here my old-school idea for helping our state convention: Ask churches to increase CP giving. The GBC already keeps about 60% of every CP dollar. They will be blessed and appreciative. Suggesting churches defund all of our SBC work to help the GBC is an unwise, unproductive, and uncooperative approach.

So far as I am aware, this resolution is the first by any association or state convention that encourages churches to cut Cooperative Program giving. It is unfortunate but I give allowance for good intentions.

Brethren, let's rethink this thing. Thanks.

Addendum: Joe McGee has sent me a brief email stating that although we disagree on some thing, he thought my treatment to be fair. He does add that the resolution is partly aimed at a method by which churches who are already cutting CP giving may be kept partly in the SBC giving fold. I don't find that to be a compelling reason for the actions suggested but, again, I give credit for good intentions.


Anonymous said...


While I understand the need for cooperation and the support for missions global, It seems this association has made a good case for themselves that due to decisions at the national level that many in their association feel disenfranchised. I can agree with your position and the need to continue on but can also agree that this association is exercising their autonomy concerning burning issues, important to them. If all these churches feel that the national level is in the directors seat, orchestrating how churches need to be supportive and silent, just keep the funds flowing... They might have an honest complaint. The only voice many churches feel they have left to offer is a voice with their dollars. Since the bible does not support a CP format, making it feel almost like a biblical demand to support it is going to bite the big boys in the backside.

I do not want to cut missionaries. I want to see more go but someone from the national level needs to be reminded that the SBC is not their show alone. They are not the directors of all things SB.

Would I rise up and try and lead an association to do what this one in GA has done? Not yet, but could possibly be persuaded if something doesn't change.

Jon L. Estes

Jonathan said...

1. I agree with William's answer to the question in the post title.

2. I understand the underlying concern/issue/frustration that led to the associational action.

3. The churches of the SBC have long ago abandoned the thinking that the SBC is a) the world's last/best/only hope to accomplish the Great Commission, b) actually interested in what the small to medium sized churches think (aside from sending in checks that can be forwarded to Nashville), c) going to take serious action to streamline its own agency/admin costs.

4. Unless something changes in 3b and 3c, there is a significant swath of SBC churches that are going to see a great deal of cynicism and deflection in attempts to criticize associations and state conventions that attempt to push back against what they perceive to be top down dictates.

I'm a fan of the CP. But the churches that have provided the bulk of the leadership positions in the SBC since the beginning of the CR have spoken very loudly with their own giving choices.

It is going to take a long time for these voices to gain credibility on this issue...and I'm not sure that the SBC has that much time.

Joe McGee said...

I am the Director of Missions for the Consolation Baptist Association. We are the association that passed the resolution encouraging churches and association to consider providing a portion of their cooperative program contributions to state missions. For those who may ask why?

1. Because our economy is such that churches don’t have any extra finances to contribute to state missions.

2. Our state conventions are in dire distress with the passing of the Great Commission Giving.
3. Since a few of our churches have already voted to decrease their CP contributions and some will visit this item during next year’s budget and because of their dissatisfaction and feeling of disenfranchised with the SBC. It was felt that it would be best that we ask each church to take the portion that would have already been lost to the CP and dedicate it to state missions.
4. The SBC organization do little if any ministries within small town and rural churches, especially in the south, who are struggling to make ends meet and need assistance that normally is only provided by the local association and state conventions. NAMB seems to only work in the metro Atlanta area in Georgia, the rest of Georgia, especially the rural and small town areas, seem to not exist, or are not on their radar. Soul and discipleship training is just as important in small towns and rural churches as those in the North and foreign lands.
5. When those who champion the big churches and follow the mega-church pastors and two presidents of our seminaries leadership in designating money to SBC institutions, thereby, bypassing the cooperative program through the Great Commission Giving criticize our association for our recommendation, we find them hypocritical. Why is it ok to designate finances from the cooperative program to NAMB, IMB, or the seminary the pastor graduated from under the label of Great Commission Giving, but when some church designates to state mission they claim that we are destroying the cooperative program, or that the designated finances to only go toward SBC causes.
6. This is our Great Commission Giving. If you feel we are wrong then be bold enough to charge the two seminary presidents who are responsible and Johnny Hunt with the same charge. They are the main people responsible for the GCG. If what we do destroys the cooperative program, remember they are responsible for it. If it is wrong for one group it is equally wrong for all.
7. Our state convention provides needed ministries that help our churches. The SBC remains to be seen.

I want ot thank William for providing us a forum.

William Thornton said...

Thanks for the comment Joe. Call me if you are ever up this way.

I think Joe is clear in his view and I'd just add a couple of items here:

1. I haven't heard much criticism of the association's action save for my own and I am not a big megachurch fan.
2. I haven't said that this action will "destroy" the CP. The old CP is quite resilient.
3. You might reconsider the shots at Johnny Hunt. His church leads the state in CP giving.

My guess is that the CP will continue to decline but not drastically.